London Briefing: High Street retailers continue to go out of fashion

Outfitters Austin Reed the latest famous name set to disappear

Austin Reed is to close its doors by the end of June after administrators failed to find a buyer for the business. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Austin Reed, which has been kitting out City types for over 100 years, is to close its doors by the end of June after administrators failed to find a buyer for the business.

When the fashion chain went into administration in April - just 24 hours after the collapse of BHS – there were hopes of finding a buyer for the bulk of its 120 branches. But despite initial interest, the stores are to be shuttered with the loss of around 1,000 jobs as yet another famous name disappears from the High Street.

Administrators AlixPartners said they had “explored all options” in the search for a buyer but it had become clear that there was no viable solution to the company’s problems against the background of the “extremely challenging” retail environment.

Founded in 1900 by Austin Leonard Reed, the menswear outfitter made Winston Churchill’s famous siren suits – a one-piece garment designed to be put on at speed, such as when an air raid siren sounded, hence the name. In the Swinging Sixties Austin Reed dressed celebrities such as The Beatles.


It lost its reputation for cutting edge fashion in later years, and suffered from the trend away from formal wear, but still counted the stylish IMF boss, Christine Lagarde, among its customers, having branched out into womenswear in the 1980s.

The administrators have managed to sell just five concession outlets to Edinburgh Woollen Mill, the retail business run by Philip Day, whose name has also been associated with BHS. Day has also bought the Austin Reed and Country Casual brands.

Meanwhile news is still awaited on BHS, where thousands of jobs are at risk if administrators fail to find a buyer for the 164-store chain. As with Austin Reed, there have been plenty of expressions of interest since the business fell into administration, putting 11,000 jobs at risk in the biggest retail collapse since Woolworths failed in 2008.

Late entrants

Potential buyers include Sports Direct’s

Mike Ashley

, who also owns

Newcastle United

football club, along with Edinburgh Woollen Mills’ Day.

Late entrants to the bidding include Greg Tufnell, brother of the former English cricketer Phil. Greg Tufnell has wide experience of the retail industry and his credentials include stints running the menswear retailer Burton and the Mothercare mother and baby chain. His bid is thought to have backing from Portuguese investors. An announcement from the administrators is expected by the end of the week.

Polymer banknotes

Flashing the plastic will soon take on a new meaning as the Bank of England prepares to issue Britain’s first ever polymer banknotes.

The new fivers will be unveiled by Bank of England governor Mark Carney tomorrow in the historic surroundings of Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, who features on the new notes.

Threadneedle Street has been issuing banknotes for more than 300 years but is rather behind the times when it comes to plastic notes. More than 30 countries have already converted from paper to plastic, including Mauritius, Fiji, Romania, Vietnam, Mexico and Papua New Guinea.

Australia was first to experiment with polymer in 1988, after a spate of counterfeit notes were found to be in circulation, and also the first nation to fully convert its notes to polymer, in 1996.

And, as governor of the Bank of Canada from 2008-2013, it was Carney who oversaw the introduction of plastic notes in his home nation in 2011.

Threadneedle Street conducted lengthy consultations before deciding to modernise Britain’s banknotes, talking to the public, the retail industry and other businesses and cash experts. The results of the consultation process had been “overwhelmingly positive”, it said.

The case for polymer is indeed a strong one – the notes are not only cleaner, cheaper to produce and harder to counterfeit, they are also far more durable, lasting at least twice as long as traditional cotton paper notes. They are extremely hard to tear and have been shown to survive a spin in the washing machine, although ironing them afterwards is not advised.

The Bank has assured people that the notes, even new ones, can be folded, but there are concerns that fivers fresh off the printing presses may be more likely to stick together than traditional paper notes.

The Churchill plastic fiver, which goes into circulation in September, will be followed next year by the new polymer £20 note, featuring novelist Jane Austen, and in 2020 by the £20 note, featuring artist JMW Turner. Fiona Walsh is business editor of